Gabrielle Union Says She Wants to Hold 'Bad Apples Accountable' Amid 'AGT' Drama
By Paige Gawley
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Gabrielle Union is speaking out amid her drama with America's Got Talent. During an appearance on The Daily Social Distancing Show With Trevor Noah, Union explained what she had hoped to accomplish through her discrimination complaint against NBC, Simon Cowell, FremantleMedia and Syco Entertainment, which she filed with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing earlier this month. The complaint has since been closed, as Union requested an immediate right to sue, which she was granted.
"We have been so committed as an industry -- and every industry's facing the same thing -- with going along to get along," she said. "Trying to figure out how you work around the bad apples, as opposed to addressing and making those bad apples accountable and there being real consequences."
"In front of and behind the camera, there has to be an increase in representation across the board, from the top to the bottom," Union continued. "Who gets to make the decisions of which projects to green light? Who is a part of those development processes? Who gets to determine budgets? Who gets to determine who gets opportunities and why?"
Prior to her discrimination complaint, NBC conducted an independent investigation about Union's claims, some of which were related to alleged race issues at the show where Union served as a judge for one season before being fired.
Union said that she "decided to participate" in the investigation in order to try to accomplish her goals of "change," "treating employees fairly," and holding "the people at the very top accountable," but she claims it wasn't conducted as she'd hoped.
"They were like, 'We're going to commission this independent investigation.' Well, silly me. I thought independent was independent, but when NBC and Fremantle and Syco pay for that investigation, they control it," she said. "They turn over what they believe to be inflammatory things, or things that are not advantageous to me, over to the head of NBC, Paul Telegdy, who uses those things that he thinks are smoking guns to shoot down my claims. He then threatens my agent [by saying,] 'Gabrielle better watch who she calls a racist' in the middle of an investigation about racism and discrimination. This is what's happening from the top of the company."
In a previous statement to ET, NBC said that Union's claim of a threat being made against her was "categorically untrue."
"We took Ms. Union's concerns seriously, and engaged an outside investigator who found an overarching culture of diversity on the show. NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect," the statement read.
Another one of Union's claims centered around Cowell smoking indoors in front of her, though she's severely allergic.
"Day one, Simon Cowell is smoking cigarettes inside. I've worked a long time. I've worked with all kinds of people. I've never experienced that," she said. "So, when your boss, the person who has the ability to determine who gets opportunities and who doesn't, doesn't believe that the law applies to him, or the rules apply to him, and he does it in full view of NBC and Fremantle and Syco, and no one cares about Simon Cowell exposing all of these employees to secondhand smoke -- that's day one, that's within the first hour -- what message do you think that sends to anyone that has an issue with the very real racism and the lack of accountability?"
In a previous statement to Variety, Cowell's spokesperson said that when he was made aware of the smoking complaint during the first couple of days of the season, he "immediately changed his behavior and the issue was never raised again."
Amid the drama with AGT, Union said she wants companies to "treat people fairly" and "have mechanisms in place for when things happen, there are consequences."
"We have to be able to be OK with change that doesn’t always benefit us. Some people believe that... the only way to lead is to center yourself in every argument," she said. "What I’m learning throughout this whole process is sometimes the best way to lead is to get out of the way and make room for someone else. You have to dismantle the whole thing. You can't put a Band-Aid on a gunshot. You can't."
ET previously reached out to Cowell, Fremantle and Syco for comment.